Sunday, March 1, 2020

Monday, February 10, 2020

Distant Memories

It’s February 10, 2020.  It’s the 117th anniversary of my grandmother’s birth and nine months minus a week until the general election in November.  So, what have the two got to do with each other?  Or “Parasite” and the Detroit Tigers?

As far as the collective memory and speed of the media, the distance between the birth of Lola Ada Dunn in Bloomington, Illinois, in 1903 and the election in 2020 are about the same.  What happens today will be as distant in our immediate past when the polls open, and I’m pretty sure that if you ask the average voter standing in line on November 3, 2020 what film won the Oscar for the Best Picture last night, they’ll draw a blank.  That’s nothing against “Parasite,” but regardless of how important the event is to the average voter, if it didn’t impact them directly, the level of attention to the news of today (“Dems in Disarray!  Buttigieg clashes with Klobuchar!” “Trump Triumphant in Impeachment!”) is about the same as what was handed out in Los Angeles last night, and when it will really matter is far, far away.

What that also means is that paying attention to polls today and seeing them as the true harbinger of what will come to pass is like betting on the Tigers to win the World Series based on their record in April.  It’s fun and may start a long comment thread on Facebook, but it’s not going to really mean anything except provide distraction during a dreary winter.  For instance, a poll came out last week saying Trump’s approval rating had hit 49% and the world freaked out that he might actually break through to 50%, and there were pundits who were actually paid for predicting that with such great numbers, he’d sweep 49 states in the election.  Well, that kind of talk will certainly sell a lot of patent medicine during the commercial breaks on MSNBC, but real pollsters know that one poll doth not make an election and that a true scientific reading would include all polls put together in an aggregate.  To make one poll the harbinger is like saying winning a four-game series against the Yankees means they’ll win it all.

For those of you who really need to know, though, Trump’s aggregate polling has him at 43% approval rating as of last Friday.

Notice that green line, which is his approval rating since his inauguration.  He has been under water since the day he took office, and hasn’t gotten anywhere close to 50% since then.  So that one poll that got all the attention last weekend and caused agita among all the Very Serious People was an outlier: one of those little green dots among the many.  To make that the story of the week is about the same as giving the Cy Young award to a pitcher who closed out with a single win in April.

That doesn’t mean that everybody can breathe easily and start planning for the Democrats to sweep into power.  We know that the GOP will do everything they can, be it legal or not, moral or not, to keep Trump in office and thereby assure their talon-like yet sclerotic grip on power.  Democrats have to work especially hard to fight off the scourge of lies and paranoia within their own ranks and basically save both themselves and the rest of us from complacency and placing too much trust in the common sense of the American voter to reject the manipulations of Trump and his minions.  We tried that before and it didn’t exactly pan out.

I take small comfort in Trump’s low approval rating other than the fact that even if he does have a base of rock-solid support at 43%, it hasn’t moved significantly since January 20, 2017, and even when he’s had “good” weeks, it hasn’t changed.  I’ll wait to see what it’s like in a week or so to see if that clown show at the SOTU has any impact, but if history is any guide, that event has rarely budged a poll for any president, and by November, it will be as distant a memory as 1903.

Oh, and happy birthday, Grammie.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Sunday Reading

Hornet’s Nest — Charles P. Pierce.

I confess that all I know about Soleimani I learned from this long 2013 profile by Dexter Filkins in The New Yorker. As nearly as I can tell from Friday morning’s reactions, that’s the source material for a great deal of them. Soleimani is reckoned to have been a combination of Machiavelli, General Giap, Suleiman the Magnificent, and Lex Luthor. Which raises the question, so far unanswered, as to why a man with so many enemies other than the United States, operating with impunity in a volatile part of the world, survived as long as he did. The only logical answer is that these people carefully took the risk-reward calculations to heart and decided that killing Soleimani wasn’t worth what would ensue in the aftermath. If these calculations were made by the current U.S. administration*, they are not yet obvious.

Instead, the president* tweeted out the image of an American flag. An official Pentagon briefing pointedly said that the action had been taken at the order of the president*. The State Department warned Americans to get the hell out of Iraq, but not to come to the massive American embassy. Americans are urged to leave by airplane if possible but, if necessary, to escape by land, although where the hell they’re supposed to go—Syria?—was left unexplained. But the Americans should get out of Iraq, a place that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told CNN on Friday morning is safer now that Soleimani is dead.

(Pompeo also told CNN that the strike was undertaken to preempt an “imminent threat” to U.S. assets, a threat that Pompeo declined to identify, and, yes, we’ve all seen this movie before.)

So no, I have no confidence that anyone there can play this game. The president* is an ignoramus with little or no credibility on any issue, let alone war and peace. His Secretary of State doesn’t seem to have any plan beyond sycophancy. We are hearing the echoes of 2002 and 2003 rising again, except this time on the part of an inferior breed of con artist.

(I suspect that the action taken by the administration* may well finally be the thing that splits the more militaristic of the Never Trumpers from their newfound Democratic allies.)

The stated policy of this administration* is the utter disruption of the Iranian government as a prelude to regime change. We tried this in the 1950s and Iran got 20 years of a police state. Does anyone seriously believe that an Iranian regime that rises from American policy will have the faintest credibility with most Iranians? We tried that in Iraq, which is why Qasem Soleiman found such a target-rich environment there. And any split in the current Iranian regime over the now-abandoned nuclear deal likely has been smoothed over. And god only knows what will happen in Iraq as a result of this. This policy is kick-over-the-hornet’s-nest at its worst. Maybe it’s all just to keep John Bolton from testifying to the Senate. That’s as good an explanation as any.

Hi, Tech! — Lucas Gardner in The New Yorker leaves a note for the person who’s fixing his laptop.

Hello and welcome! Thank you in advance for fixing my computer. I expect that you’re probably going to be tempted to snoop around my laptop to see if I have anything embarrassing on there. I have no way to stop you from doing this, so I’ve decided to get out ahead of it and write you this comprehensive guide.

I keep all my pornography in the folder “C: > Program Files (x86) > Internet Explorer > en-Us > files > real folder”—but I’ve gone ahead and moved it all to the desktop for you, for ease of access. Normally, I don’t really organize it, but I took the liberty of separating it into different folders, labelled by category, for you. I also have some old-fashioned print pornography that I have gone ahead and enclosed in the laptop case.

In my Documents folder, you will find some of my writing. Much of it is bad and sure to give you and the gang over there a good laugh. I would recommend checking out “A Mirthless Summer at the Château Beverly,” an unfinished novel I tried to write about a forbidden romance between a wealthy socialite and—I don’t even remember, a gardener or some shit. I went ahead and bolded all the worst parts, so you can just skim it for the greatest hits. But, if you have time to read the whole thing, it’s all bad.

Other than the writing, you’ll find spreadsheets of my finances and some old tax documents. Nothing interesting there, unless you actually dive in and crunch the numbers, in which case you’ll uncover an absolutely earth-shattering case of unemployment fraud. Please do not tell!!!

I’ll save you some time and let you know that there’s nothing embarrassing in the Pictures folder. No nudes or anything like that. I have some of those on a separate hard drive though, so I’ll swing by and drop that off tomorrow after my doctor’s appointment, which is regarding sex problems.

You’ll find that I cleared my Google search history before bringing the laptop in. Sorry about that, it was an accident. Here are some searches that you would have found:

•“How to make friends as an adult”

•“Pro-bono fraud defense attorney New York”

•“Could Alf really happen”

•“Donnie Darko ending explained”

I’ll let you know if I remember other ones.

I didn’t log out of any of my social-media accounts, so I guess you’re free to dive in. You’ll see that I’ve sent some messages that are pretty humiliating. For the record, I would just like to state that when I wrote them I was a hundred-per-cent, stone-cold sober. Also, don’t forget to check the time stamps, which will show that they were written in broad daylight.

You probably wouldn’t even think to check my calendar for anything shameful. Do not make this mistake! There’s some stuff on there that really sucks for me—I don’t even want to spoil it for you. Feel free to call me afterward and let me know what you think.

Doonesbury — What’s in a name?

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Back Soon

While the laptop is at the doctor getting upgraded, posting here is on hold. Stay tuned, I’ll be back shortly.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Because Klingons Don’t Take Prisoners

I’m sorry Beto O’Rourke lost his bid to unseat Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) last year, but you have to admit that having the guy who thought “Green Eggs and Ham” was a life-lesson about shutting down the government is at least entertaining to have in office.

His latest campaign is to brace us against attacks from “space pirates.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said this week that it was important to fund President Trump‘s proposed “Space Force” in order to prevent possible space pirates.

“Since the ancient Greeks first put to sea, nations have recognized the necessity of naval forces and maintaining a superior capability to protect waterborne travel and commerce from bad actors,” Cruz, the chairman of the subcommittee on aviation and space, said at a hearing Tuesday.

“Pirates threaten the open seas, and the same is possible in space. In this same way, I believe we too must now recognize the necessity of a Space Force to defend the nation and to protect space commerce and civil space exploration,” Cruz said.

The Trump administration’s current plan to create Space Force would cost more than $2 billion to get off the ground, according to a report from the Congressional Budget Office.

The report found that a Space Force military branch would need 5,400 to 7,800 in new personnel for overhead and management, adding more than $1 billion to the Pentagon’s annual costs.

Trump proposed creating Space Force within the Air Force, similar to how the Marine Corps operates with the Navy. The Pentagon, however, has said Space Force should exist as its own branch of the military, arguing its necessity is inevitable as China and Russia sharpen their focus on space.

A defense spending bill would give $15 million to study the implementation of Space Force but would not go towards creating it as a branch of the military.

Only Congress can create a new military branch, but Trump has signed off on the set-up of the U.S. Space Command. Lawmakers have demonstrated skepticism over the administration’s Space Force plans, questioning the specifics of the Trump proposal and the need for a new service at all.

Now I know Sen. Ted is worried about the Chinese or other earthbound rivals coming up with ways to disable our satellites and take out our military surveillance techniques (not to mention steal from Direct TV).  But when he came out railing about “space pirates,” I and a lot of other people were going for arming against the Klingons who once forged an alliance with the Romulans to defeat Starfleet and take over the United Federation of Planets.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Neil Simon – 1927-2018

Some playwrights told the truth through tragedy, some through pathos, some through their family portrayals on the stage. Neil Simon did all of that with the sharpness and wit of comedy that got made it even more everlasting. And while we may remember the quips, the one-liners, and the scalpel-like humor, it was always to show us our humanity and human-ness. It was pure genius, and generations from now, when playwrights who seemed so much more important have faded from memory, Neil Simon will still be the one who made us laugh so we could truly see ourselves. What more could you want?

He was the Inge Festival honoree in 1997.  He came to Independence and acknowledged the small-town Midwestern place with his typical humor: “Where can I get good bagels and lox?”  He had breakfast at one of the little storefront restaurants and quipped about writing a new play. “Apple Tree Suite,” for the motel where he stayed during the festival.  He was gracious, charming, and made us laugh at every turn.  And when I think of writers that had an impact on both my writing and my outlook on life, he’s right up there with Lanford Wilson, Robert Anderson, William Inge, and John Steinbeck.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

That Morning

Fifty years ago today — June 5, 1968 — I woke up early in my dorm room in Auchincloss Hall at St. George’s School in Newport, Rhode Island. It was the last week of my freshman — and only — year at the school, and we were in the middle of final exams. I had gone to sleep the night before, after cramming for my Old Testament exam, listening to WBZ Radio out of Boston which had been reporting the early results of that day’s primary election in California. Bobby Kennedy was favored to win, but the final results hadn’t come in by the time I had to obey the prefect’s order for Lights Out and turn off the radio.

I was only fifteen but I was already getting interested in politics, especially since President Johnson had announced in March that he would not seek and would not accept the nomination of his party for another term as president. Eugene McCarthy, the anti-Vietnam War candidate, had showed surprising strength in the New Hampshire primary, and with the entrance of Bobby Kennedy into the race in March, it looked like the Democrats were poised to take the party in a whole new direction and put forward a charismatic and dynamic candidate who could beat the Republicans, even if they nominated that old war horse, Richard Nixon. Bobby Kennedy was drawing huge crowds everywhere he went; crowds of all ages, including high school and college kids who were still too young to vote (the voting age wasn’t lowered to 18 until 1971). And I was caught up in it; I read everything I could about him, including the cover story entitled “The Politics of Restoration” in the May 24, 1968 edition of Time, and I put the cover of that issue on my wall like it was a rock concert poster. I saw in Bobby the continuation of the hope and optimism that I remembered from his older brother Jack, the first president I remembered not as some vague and distant old man, but as a person and someone I cared about. I looked forward to Bobby Kennedy sweeping into Chicago in August and capturing the nomination, picking up the torch, and sprinting to victory in November against the dour and scary Republicans. Camelot was going to make a comeback, and the White House would be crawling with Kennedy children once again.

And then I turned on the radio.

At first I wasn’t sure what I was hearing. Instead of the normal news, weather and sports from Boston, I tuned in to hear the morning news announcer stumbling through a wire service report that “the doctors would be holding a press conference on Senator Kennedy’s condition in a few moments,” and then he said, “To recap, Senator Robert Kennedy was shot last night in Los Angeles after winning the California primary against Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy. He’s in critical condition at Good Samaritan Hospital….” I listened for a few more minutes, then knocked on the door of the kid next door, a guy named Jeff. He was still asleep — it was a little before seven and we didn’t have to be to our final until 8:30 — but soon the entire floor was buzzing with the news. When we gathered in the cavernous second-floor study hall to sit for our exam, the chaplain led us in prayer for Bobby, and then we methodically took the exam. Afterwards, we waited for any news, but we all had the sick feeling that we knew what was coming. We had heard it before with John F. Kennedy less than four years before and with Martin Luther King in April.

Three days later, June 8, 1968, was graduation day — they call it Prize Day at St. George’s. That was also the day of Bobby Kennedy’s funeral at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, but I missed it on TV since I was sitting in the stuffy gym watching the senior class pick up their diplomas. After lunch I got on a charter bus to Boston to catch a plane back to Toledo, knowing I would not be returning to St. George’s in the fall, and arriving at home in the dusk of a June night in time to see once again the grainy black-and-white images of yet another Kennedy funeral procession up the hill of Arlington National Cemetery. Night had fallen — the funeral train trip from New York had taken longer than expected — and the procession, including the teenage sons of Bobby and Ethel bearing their father’s coffin, made its way to the grave site under the glare of floodlights. He was buried under a simple white cross near the eternal flame of his brother.

That was the summer that cities burned, the police rioted at the convention in Chicago, the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia, and Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie began their campaign to keep the White House in the hands of the Democrats while trying desperately to distance themselves from the Johnson administration; not an easy task since Humphrey was LBJ’s vice president. The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in Miami, and George Wallace, the governor of Alabama who stood in school house door and swore to uphold segregation now and forever, launched a third-party run to draw off disaffected conservative blue-collar Democrats, a lesson not lost on Richard Nixon and the GOP when Wallace carried five southern states with ten million votes. I volunteered for the local Democratic campaign office and spent many weekends after I got my driver’s license in September handing out literature to inner city neighborhoods in Toledo. Vote Humphrey-Muskie said the little red, white, and blue stickers, and I tried hard to be as enthusiastic as possible, but I sorely wished they said Vote Kennedy.

We watched the election returns in November, the race too close to call until the next morning. My history teacher wheeled in the big TV on the VTR cart and we watched Walter Cronkite pronounce Richard Nixon as the next President of the United States. Vice President Humphrey conceded gracefully, and I spent the evening scraping the last of the Humphrey-Muskie stickers off the bumper of my mom’s 1967 Ford Country Squire.

*

It’s been fifty years since I felt the same way about a presidential candidate as I did about Bobby Kennedy. Perhaps, like your first love, you can never recapture the intensity, the newness, the thrill of hearing someone express the feelings you feel and you experience a passion that goes beyond yourself; you start to see the world in the third person, and you take it so personally that it becomes a part of you. And when the shock of the loss hits you, it numbs you. The grieving process is excruciating, and you feel as if nothing could ever be the same again. And the next time you know that no matter what the next person says, be they a candidate for president or a lover, you will never forget the first one and you will subconsciously compare them, and the new one will be found lacking. It’s not their fault that I can’t fall for them the same way I fell for the first one. In a way, I wish I could. I admire the passion of the people I see taking up the cause of their candidate, no matter their party, and I am envious of their devotion to the cause. I hope they never lose it, but I also hope they realize that sometimes it can be taken away with a terrible force and brutal reality that leaves a scar that is never truly healed.

In one small way, the spirit and youthful passion of my admiration and support of Bobby Kennedy has never left me. When I first envisioned the character of Bobby Cramer in 1994, I knew where his name came from; he was born in 1961 and his mother adored Bobby Kennedy. I think the same sense of hope that I saw in Bobby Kennedy comes through in the boy in the novel and the play, even if he does believe that hope is his greatest weakness. But I wish that I — and the country — can find that hope again; that we all find that same sense of wonder and purpose to do what we can to make this country and world a better place that I had on that June morning fifty years ago, the moment before I turned on the radio.


Bobby Kennedy
November 20, 1925 – June 6, 1968

“Some men see things as they are and say ‘Why?’ I dream things that never were and say, ‘Why not?'”

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Friday, April 27, 2018

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Friday, May 12, 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Boob Tube

Via the Independent (UK):

Being US President is one of the most demanding jobs in the world. Donald Trump seems to have already mastered his schedule however. As well as getting up early to watch cable TV shows, he also records them to “obsessively” watch in the evening, it has been reported.

According to Gabriel Sherman, National Affairs Editor at New York Magazine, people close to the White House say Mr Trump has begun watching “a lot” of Fox News recently, after a period of tuning in to CNN. But not wanting to miss anything, the President also has a system that allows him to catch up on the day’s morning shows before bed.

Appearing on Slate magazine’s Trump podcast on Monday, Sherman shared information he had gleaned from his White House contacts with host Jacob Weisberg. “My sources in Trumpworld say that he watches a lot of Fox,” he said. “But the other thing he does, a source close to the White House has told me, is that he DVRs [digitally records] basically all of the cable news.”

Mr Trump’s TV consumption has reportedly been a source of concern to his aides since he became President. But so far his team has failed to have any real influence on what Sherman calls his “obsessive” behaviour. “It’s kind of remarkable really, that someone would actually want to watch cable news on recording,” he says. “Donald Trump apparently does, and when he goes back up to the residence at the end of the day, I’ve been told he spends a lot of time flipping through the cable networks, including CNN, and catching up on the way he’s been covered. This is a man whose validation is cemented by the way the media covers him, so he obsessively monitors his media coverage.”

How pathetically insecure do you have to be to be both President of the United States and still need of approval and validation by a bunch of sycophantic pundits on Fox News?

Okay, Mom, you were right: too much TV can turn your brain to mush.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Friday, February 10, 2017

Out For The Weekend

As alluded to in Friday Catblogging below, this weekend is the 11th annual Boca Raton Concours d’Elegance where I will mingle with the rich, famous, and strangely-clad.  This is a fun time to see some great antique autos and motorcycles as well as spend quality time with my brother, who has made this a regular reason to come to South Florida and thaw out a little.

Since I am addicted to the keyboard, I will be updating here with some photos of the weekend and hoping to share some of them for you to admire remnants of a time when style and engineering and just plain fun plied highways and byways.  And even though I know this crowd is most assuredly not of the pussy-hat contingency, we can all get along as long as there’s mint in the iced tea and we all agree that the Ford Mustang is a god.  Right?

1966 Ford Mustang GT

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Taking Dictation

David Remnick of The New Yorker reports on Trump’s meeting with media executives this week.

The fantasy of the normalization of Donald Trump—the idea that a demagogic candidate would somehow be transformed into a statesman of poise and deliberation after his Election Day victory—should now be a distant memory, an illusion shattered.

First came the obsessive Twitter rants directed at “Hamilton” and “Saturday Night Live.” Then came Monday’s astonishing aria of invective and resentment aimed at the media, delivered in a conference room on the twenty-fifth floor of Trump Tower. In the presence of television executives and anchors, Trump whined about everything from NBC News reporter Katy Tur’s coverage of him to a photograph the news network has used that shows him with a double chin. Why didn’t they use “nicer” pictures?

For more than twenty minutes, Trump railed about “outrageous” and “dishonest” coverage. When he was asked about the sort of “fake news” that now clogs social media, Trump replied that it was the networks that were guilty of spreading fake news. The “worst,” he said, were CNN (“liars!”) and NBC.

This is where we are. The President-elect does not care who knows how unforgiving or vain or distracted he is. This is who he is, and this is who will be running the executive branch of the United States government for four years.

[…]

The participants all shook Trump’s hand at the start of the session and congratulated him, but things went south from there. The attendees included around two dozen anchors and executives from CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox, and ABC, including Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, Wolf Blitzer, Gayle King, David Muir, and Martha Raddatz. The Trump people did say that they would allow the new President to be followed, as tradition has had it, by a team of pool reporters.

Participants said that Trump did not raise his voice, but that he went on steadily at the start of the meeting about how he had been treated poorly. “It was all so Trump,” one said. “He is like this all the time. He’ll freeze you out and then be nice and humble and sort of want you to like him.”

“But he truly doesn’t seem to understand the First Amendment,” the source continued. “He doesn’t. He thinks we are supposed to say what he says and that’s it.”

This is how dictators talk, think, and work.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Friday, October 28, 2016

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday, July 15, 2016